Handling Promise Errors

In a recent Lunch and Learn with the Maxwell engineering team, we noticed two different ways to handle a rejected Promise. One can either include a second argument to the Promise’s .then() function, or add a .catch() function. Curious to learn more, I decided to dig in further.

Why not async / await?

At Maxwell, we tend to prefer async / await for handling asynchronous functionality. With async / await, we can use try / catch blocks to handle any errors and avoid any need to catch errors on a Promise directly.

However, async / await is just syntactic sugar around Promises. By learning more about what’s going on “under the hood,” we can better implement, debug, and describe what our asynchronous code is actually doing.

The two methods of catching rejected Promises

Method #1: The first method to handle a rejected Promise involves adding a second callback to the .then() function:

  () => console.log('Success'),
  () => console.log('Error')

Method #2: The second method to handle a rejected Promise is adding a .catch() function:

  .then(() => console.log('Success'))
  .catch(() => console.log('Error'))

Similarities between the two methods

The two methods of handling rejected Promises are almost entirely the same. From MDN:

…calling obj.catch(onRejected) internally calls obj.then(undefined, onRejected).

In almost all cases, either method will work. There is one major exception, however.

Differences between the two methods

Despite the nearly-identical implementations, there is one major difference. When either (1) an error is thrown in the .then() handler, or (2) the .then() handler returns a rejected Promise, only the .catch() function will catch the error.

    () => Promise.reject('Rejected'), // or throw new Error()
    () => console.log('Second .then() function') // not called
  .catch((err) => console.error('.catch() function')) // called

Why would we reject a Promise in the .then() function?

A rejected Promise would most commonly occur when chaining Promises together. Consider a series of interdependent API calls:

  .then((response) => secondApiCall(response), console.error)
  .then((response) => setState(response), console.error)

If secondApiCall() in the example above is rejected, our console.error function will not run, and the error will throw and not be caught.

Additionally, we would have to repeat our error handler for each Promise along the chain, which may be repetitive if the error handler is generic.

Adding a .catch() function to the above example will both simplify the code, and allow the rejected Promise to be caught.

  .then((response) => secondApiCall(response))
  .then((response) => setState(response))


To make things easy, simply use .catch() to catch errors in Promises. This will work exactly the same as the second function passed to .then() in most cases, and will allow you to catch errors from rejected Promises in a Promise chain.

Written on December 13, 2021 by Sam Messina

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